TOLEDO, Ohio (WWJ/AP) – Residents in Toledo are flocking to stores in Michigan in search of water after Ohio officials issued a “do not drink” warning and declared a state of emergency.
Authorities in Toledo issued an alert around 2 a.m. Saturday, warning residents not to consume any of its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly related to algae on Lake Erie. The warning applies to about 400,000 people in the area. By the afternoon, Ohio’s governor had declared a state of emergency.
The advisory also applies to a few Michigan communities that receive water from Toledo: Bedford Township, Erie Township, La Salle Township and Luna Pier.
Gov. John Kasich’s emergency order will allow the state to begin bringing water into the Toledo area. Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said it’s too early to know how long the water advisory will stay in place.
Kasich said that all of the state’s agencies are trucking water and other supplies to affected areas in and around Toledo.
Tracey Rhodes said he had to travel nearly an hour away from his home in Toledo just to find some bottled water.
“I’m all the way in Taylor, Michigan right now,” Rhodes told WWJ’s Beth Fisher around 8 a.m. “Everything close to Toledo, everything is sold out. I already hit Monroe and Monroe is sold out of bottled water.”
The atmosphere at some stores reminded many people of “Black Friday,” with shoppers pushing carts full of bottled water, bags of ice and flavored water. A man on a mission, Rhodes said he’s looking to stockpile quite a bit of water, especially because a child is living in his home.
“I’m trying to buy a few days’ worth, some big bottles and about three cases of bottled water, because you don’t know how long this is going to last. You don’t want to assume nothing, you want to be prepared. You’ve got to have water,” he said.
Toledo leaders were setting up water distribution centers around the city, limiting families to one case of bottled water. Some stores that were receiving new shipments of water put limits on how much people can buy.
“We’re going to be prepared to make sure people are not without water,” said Mayor Collins, who pleaded with residents not to panic.
Mike Bosanac, with Monroe County’s emergency management office, said officials have set up two locations where Michigan residents affected by the advisory can get water.
“We’re providing tankers of non-potable water at the Bedford Township Hall and the Luna Pier Fire Station, where residents can go get non-potable water. We are now working on a source for potable water, bottled water if you will, that we can get out to those communities, but we have not confirmed that yet,” Bosanac said.
Terry Russeau, commissioner of Toledo’s water distribution, said officials issued the alert out of an abundance of caution after tests at one of the city’s treatment plants returned two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption. Consuming the tainted water could result in vomiting, diarrhea and other problems.
“It’s dealing with the blue-green algae out in the lake, it produces what is called a microcystin, a harmful bacteria,” Russeau said. “We don’t know if there is actually a problem there or not, that’s why we’re sampling the water. It’s a precautionary measure working with the Ohio EPA.”
The city warned against boiling the water because it will only increase the toxin’s concentration. The advisory covers city residents and those in Lucas County served by the city’s water supply.
“We’re out sampling our distribution system right now and our first test should be coming back,” around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Russeau said.
Many restaurants were closed because of the water warning and Toledo’s public school system canceled all its events Saturday. The University of Toledo closed its campus for the day and encouraged students who are from outside the Toledo area to return to their homes.
Operators of water plants all along Lake Erie, which supplies drinking water for 11 million people, have been concerned over the last few years about toxins fouling their supplies.
Almost a year ago, one township just east of Toledo told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps after tests on drinking water showed the amount of toxins had increased. That was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.
Most water treatment plants along the western Lake Erie shoreline treat their water to combat the algae. The city of Toledo spent about $4 million last year on chemicals to treat its water and combat the toxins.
The annual algae blooms have been concentrated around the western end of Lake Erie. The algae growth is fed by phosphorous mainly from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants, leaving behind toxins that can kill animals and sicken humans.
Toledo is home to about 280,000 people.
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